I grew up going to Bible camp every summer. I loved it! Through the exciting worship, dialed-in teaching, team exercises and fun, my passion for Jesus was renewed each summer.
The last evening of Bible camp I was always encouraged to go back home and tell all my friends about Jesus. Since I was so pumped up about Jesus at that point, I was expecting to see some amazing things!
But it seemed that in the span of the four-hour drive home, all the passion I’d stored up all week had oozed out like the air in a leaky balloon.
I got home in the early evening. I made myself a snack, played a video game, had dinner with my family, and the next morning it seemed that life had gone back to normal. All that passion to talk to my friends about Jesus was completely gone.
Bible camp seemed like a dream that I could barely remember. I wondered how it was possible to have felt so differently less than 24 hours ago.
Passion alone wasn’t enough to sustain my discipleship.
Listening to the predominant narrative of modern evangelical Christianity, you could get the impression that passion is what we need to live a life of discipleship to Jesus.
If we can just become enthusiastic enough, if we can just get more hyped about Jesus, we will have the fuel we need to fulfill the Great Commission and live the way of Jesus. It’s a “Bible camp” mentality that continues into adulthood for most of us.
When passion falls short
Jesus, however, tells a different story in the Gospel of Mark when he is approaching the cross. During his last supper with his disciples, he tells them they will all fall away, but none of them believe it.
Peter passionately declares, “Even if all fall away, I will not!” Jesus responds will a shocking warning: “Tonight you will disown me three times.”
And Peter simply cannot believe it. How could THAT ever happen if he feels this passionately about it? “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you!” he proclaims.
Jesus takes his disciples from dinner out to their favorite camping spot, the olive groves of Gethsemane, where he finds it necessary to pray. He takes Peter, James and John with him and tells them to simply sit with him while he prays.
Instead they fall asleep. Jesus comes back and wakes up the slumbering disciples, and gives them another warning, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
But instead of watching and praying, they fall asleep again, right up until Jesus is betrayed. The whole situation takes them off guard and, just as Jesus predicted, they all fall away, and Peter disowns Jesus three times.
Passion wasn’t enough for Peter to follow Jesus. Passion wasn’t enough for the disciples to stay awake and pray with Jesus.
Passion wasn’t enough for them to remain firmly loyal to Jesus in the face of adversity and threat. Passion wasn’t enough for them to keep their promises of fidelity to Jesus. Passion just isn’t enough for discipleship.
That’s why Jesus could predict they would all fall away. He wasn’t using divine omniscience when he prophesied the disciples’ betrayal, he could just see that they were relying on passion to sustain their discipleship, and he knew it wouldn’t be enough for them when temptation came.
Training that sustains us
That’s why he urged them to watch and pray… so that you will not fall into temptation! The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. In other words, the passion is there, but you need more than passion. You need training.
It’s a bit like the difference between my relationship with basketball and soccer. I like watching and playing both sports. I am passionate about both soccer and basketball as sports.
But the difference in my skill in these sports is massive. I can hold my own on a basketball court, but I’m not very good at soccer at all.
Why? Because while I’m equally passionate about both sports, I have trained as a basketball player since I was in elementary school, but I’ve never actually trained as a soccer player. I’ve only played pickup soccer games, which I love doing, but mostly I am a liability to my team.
I’m a liability to any soccer team I’m on, because my spirit is willing (I love playing soccer!), but my flesh is weak (I’m not very good at it!).
Disciples need training
In the same way, passion was not enough for the disciples to remain faithful in trial. They desperately wanted to come through for Jesus, I’m sure.
They genuinely thought that they could, too. They assumed their passion would carry them, but it wasn’t enough. They needed training.
They needed to learn to watch and pray, so that when temptation comes they will have the capability to actually do what they so desperately want to do.
We need the same thing, if we’re going to follow Jesus as disciples. For example, that’s what spiritual disciplines are all about, training us so that we can be poised and ready for the trials and temptations that come our way as we join Jesus in his work.
Disciplines for training disciples
I have to remind myself of this every once in awhile. My passion is not enough to sustain me, I need to submit to a regimen of training so that my flesh isn’t weak on the day of temptation.
This is why I “say my prayers” every morning and evening (I use the Daily Offices from the Book of Common Prayer). It’s why we gather for worship on Sundays to hear the gospel and receive the Eucharist. It’s why I go for walks without my phone. It’s why I participate in a discipleship group where I can submit my life to others who care for me, so we can discern how God is at work in our midst.
As we engage in these simple exercises, these predictable patterns, we find that God’s grace inhabits those spaces and he begins to transform us.
We become spiritually “strong” not by trying really hard, but by indirect effort. That’s how we train as disciples… doing little, seemingly insignificant things that allow us to do the things we cannot do by direct effort.
How about you?
I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below on one of these questions:
- How are you and your community training as disciples right now?
- What are some of the results you’ve seen so far?
- What adjustments do you need to make?
P.S. If you’re interested in what actual training looks like in discipleship, check out Gravity Leadership Academy, our coaching and training intensive for Christian leaders.
Ben Sternke says
That’s great Werner – thanks for commenting. We talk about moving people from “Come and See” to “Follow Me” to “I will make you…” to “Go and make disciples…” – sounds like you are talking about the first, organic part of that process. Cheers!
If I could, I would rename this article to, “If I Could Tell My 18-Year-Old Self Anything”. I know you’re not necessarily talking about the Passion conferences for college students, or Passion City Church in ATL that spun off from those conferences. But that’s where my mind goes. I went to Passion ’05, ’06, and ’07 when I was in college and I was all about it. I wore the t-shirts, bought the DVDs, taught the songs to the high school youth group at my church, etc. It appealed to me in ways my 110 year-old southern baptist church with an organ, hymnals, and choir in robes had not. It made me day-dream of ways church could be “better”. Over the following years, I was humbled in my pursuit to try and implement these changes that I perceived as truly PASSIONate. I learned, in humbling ways, that the Lord’s church is a lot bigger, older, and diverse than what I had perceived at my home church or at large conferences. I’m not sure I would have ever learned this if I hadn’t since joined a church that understood the formative nature of worship and discipleship. I still grew a lot from the messages I heard at the conferences and still love many of the songs I learned. But the overall aesthetics deceived my imagination of what it looks like to have spiritually mature “passion”.
I wonder how many people watched the promo video for the Passion 2019 conference and noticed that the clip advertising Andy Mineo shows him doing a crotch-grab during a performance. Have any churches added the crotch-grab to their liturgy?
Ben Sternke says